BOZICH | Louisville's best response for Duke, Grayson Allen? Just play basketball
Duke guard Grayson Allen has become the story of the year in college basketball this season, but Louisville players have no interest in that narrative when the Blue Devils arrive Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Do nothing.
How can anybody expect University of Louisville basketball players and fans to treat the arrival of Duke's Grayson Allen with a shrug, or as if Omar Prewitt of William & Mary was walking through that door?
Allen is recognized for the most disliked mug and feet and hands and facial expressions and temper tantrums in college basketball, a serial misbehaver who seems determined to make Dennis Rodman look like a Neil Armstrong.
Surely Allen deserves a string of words that I'm not going to print here, on signs that will go straight to SportsCenter. Something.
Fingers flicking and twisting and jabbing at him, the way fingers flick and twist and jab from the student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.
Then, for the exclamation point, a rousing chorus that Lennon & McCartney would appreciate: the entire KFC Yum! Center erupting in a serenade of "Day Tripper," every time Allen toes the free throw line.
It's been discussed by the band and students who sit in the front row closest to the visitor's bench.
But here is what has also been discussed:
Treating Allen like Prewitt or Caleb Swanigan of Purdue or De'Aaron Fox of Kentucky or others who have walked out of Louisville's homecourt this season thinking they had just played in a marvelous basketball atmosphere, not a WWE soundstage.
What a marvelous response that would be in these days of unrelenting one-upmanship and social media gotcha.
That is precisely what Rick Pitino's players said they intend to do. Nothing special.
"I think the media makes too much of this," said Donovan Mitchell, the thoughtful sophomore who is emerging as the leader of Pitino's team.
"He's a 21-year-old kid at the end of the day and his playing in the (2015) national championship game pretty much brought him to the stardom that he has. He's just learning how to handle certain things.
"He's still a kid. And kids do things they have to learn from. I have a lot of respect for him."
"We know that Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) is not going to be there and hopefully he's going to get well," said Louisville center Anas Mahmoud. "Louisville and Duke games are always fun.
"A lot of people I've played with have a lot of temper issues. He might be having a lot of issues with temper … Hopefully he's going to get smarter one day."
A third voice to consider was Jaylen Johnson, the Cards' sophomore forward. Johnson and Allen had a bit of a tangle when the teams played at Second and Main last February.
Johnson said that he remembers. Of course, he remembers. But Johnson said that he does not dwell.
"I've tried to wash them away, all the negative memories," Johnson said. "He's a good player. We got into a little altercation last year, but that's for the birds.
"Regardless of the fact, he's still a good player. I just think adversity hits him sometimes. He's a good player."
This is not the column I thought I'd be writing on the eve of this game, a game that both programs need to win because the Cardinals and the Blue Devils are down two games in the loss column to Florida State and Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference race.
The loser of Saturday's game will have more substantial issues than Grayson Allen.
I spoke with Al Greener, the director of U of L's pep band. I interviewed a half-dozen students and band members.
Several students told me they planned to get in line outside the arena no later than 8 a.m. to ensure they had front-row seats with the best angles to converse with Allen. Two years ago they had quite a memorable exchange with Duke center Jahlil Okafor and his family members.
The students remember that Allen's first incident last season involved taking down Raymond Spalding, a Louisville forward, at Cameron. It was a trip, definitely an unnecessary trip. They also remember his tussle with Johnson, at the return game here.
They've seen the videos of Allen's interactions with Florida State (in 2016 and earlier this week), against Elon last month and Boston College last weekend.
They followed the news of his suspension or non-suspension or however you categorize Krzyzewski's handling of the situation before Coach K departed for a four-week recovery from back surgery.
But Louisville fans have never been known for carrying on like fans at Duke, Memphis, Arizona State or West Virginia. No ugliness. No court storms.
It's typically an energized crowd, but not an obnoxious crowd. No knifes flying in front of the visitor's bench (Memphis). No printed cheer sheets with opposition research on every opposing player (Duke).
Bob Huggins always got the business here with Cincinnati. Dana Kirk heard a discouraging word or two with Memphis. People wanted to dump beverages on Mike Deane of Marquette after he saluted the crowd following a Golden Eagles' victory.
But I don't remember a time when the behavior of a Louisville crowd edged into embarrassing zone and stayed there.
No reason to start Saturday, even with Grayson Allen and Duke on the marquee.
"They're a classy program," Mitchell said. "I don't know why everybody hates Duke. They're a classy program. They win. They have a great coach. They have a great model when it comes to winning."
Do better. Be better.
That would be the most powerful response of all.
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